Two New-To-Me Locomotives for MBTA!

New-to-Me MP36 at South Station with passengers disembarking

The riding public was treated today to the sight of two brand-new-to-me locomotives that the MBTA purchased from the Utah Transit Authority.  (Yes, Utah has a transit authority, which has a surplus of trains in preparation for a big expansion in service scheduled for 2013-14).  One of the two locomotives made its first service run today and met a contingent of reporters and VIPs at South Station.  (Note to reporters: let the riders disembark before trying to board yourselves).  The Worcester-to-Boston service was only 20 minutes late, so riders were not eligible for a complementary fare.  Incidentally, the train also had two locomotives — the new one on the front and the usual one on the back.  Not taking any chances with mechanical problems, these transit bigwigs.

Side view

Originally the T planned to purchase or lease as many as nine new-to-me locomotives from the Utah Transit Authority with delivery beginning in the fall 2010, but that number appears to have been cut back and the delivery delayed. Even so, the new locomotive was a welcome shot of good press for the MBTA during a dreary stretch of winter weather.  The units are said to be a little bit more fuel efficient while also being a little bit more powerful than the MBTA’s existing stable of geriatric locomotives.  The press releases don’t mention a model number, which apparently is a variant of Motive Power’s MP36.

Platform Anxiety; where to wait for the train?

Where on this platform do I stand?

For a new rider on the commuter rail, one of the most basic questions is “where do I stand” to wait for the train?  There are long areas astride the tracks for boarding and disembarking. The areas typically are long enough to accommodate a maximum-length train of six or maybe even more cars, at eighty-five feet apiece.  That’s more than 500 feet, or well more than a football field — endzones and all.  In other words, it’s a lot of space to cover.  And there is only one of me, the rider.

The question of where on the platform to wait is all the more pressing because the midday trains only open a few doors.  There may be 12 doors to the train but rest assured only two of those doors will open — the doors where the MBCR conductors are located.  The same train generally will follow the same practice … but different trains apparently follow different practices.  Some trains board passengers on the leading cars, while other trains board passengers on the trailing cars.

How can a rider predict where on the platform the train will stop and which doors will open?  The easy answer is that you should stand with the other riders.  But that only works if you are slow to arrive at the station and time the train closely.  As you can see there are no riders in this picture of Mishawum/Woburn station a few minutes prior to the arrival of a Boston-bound train.

How about standing on the elevated platform?  The MBCR and MBTA have made handicap accessibility a priority, so more boarding is conducted from the platform in recent years.  However, clearly not all elevated platforms are in use.  You can see the picture above was taken from an elevated platform that was in a state of disrepair and not the correct choice.  The train did not board from the elevated platform.

In fact, riders boarded on the far end of the Woburn/Mishawum stop, and that only was clear when the usual riders began gathering in that area just moments before the train arrived.  There has to be a better way to help riders who are unfamiliar with a train or a station.

Walk this way to board the train

And it turns out that the MBCR already has the solution, in the form of the sign to the left posted at the Needham Junction station.  Call it obvious (or brilliant) but it is a hurtling leap forward in communications with riders.  Stand where the sign says to go and you will be alright.  Now if we could just get these signs at all of the stations!

Bicycle UNfriendly

Bicycles prohibited on the Green Line

Green Line at Chestnut Hill station

I recently bought a bicycle.  I decided on Sunday to ride it from Providence to Boston.  Awesome.  After a series of misadventures preparing for the ride — including a 40-minute late MBCR train to my starting destination — I was a little short of daylight, but still optimistic.

So at about 8 p.m., here’s the situation: I’m crossing Route 128 on the Westwood/Dedham border and I know I’ve got only about 15-minutes of daylight left to get where I need to go … but my destination (on the T system) still is about 45 minutes away.  Ideally, I’d go to the nearest MBTA station stop, right?  So which stop to I choose?  West Roxbury Station on the Needham line?  Forest Hills station on the Orange Line?  Chestnut Hill station on the Green Line?  Readville Station on the Franklin Line?  Find a bus?

I go for the familiar, frequent Green Line service, right?  The Needham line doesn’t run on Sunday, parts of the neighborhood around Forest Hills can be tough after dark, and who knows when a bus or a Readville train will come bounding down the tracks.  Right?  Bicycles, carriages, bulky luggage — all the same, right?  Equally welcome.

Wrong! Sunday night isn’t exactly a busy time on at Chestnut Hill station.  The parking lot is empty, and so are the inbound trains.  But don’t take the ample space on the trolleys and lack of posted guidance as indications that you and your bicycle are welcome.  We weren’t.  It doesn’t matter if it’s dark and you have no lights on your bike; if you’re stranded; if you have money burning a hole in your pocket; if the train is completely empty.  All irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is that at some point in the gauzy past some MBTA administrator convinced all of the Green Line drivers that they would be fired if they allowed anyone onto the the trolley with anything resembling a bike.  Ever.

This may be the stupidest MBTA policy yet.  I completely understand that my bicycle takes up space.  On the foolishly slow MBCR train I rode to the start of my bike ride, my bicycle and I occupied four seats (the three bikes on the train occupied six seats total).  Would I object to paying for some of those seats?  Not really; I’d pay, probably a premium, and particularly if it guaranteed me the ability to transport the bike onto the train (apparently you can be denied boarding if more than six bikes are on the train!).  Would I have done the same on the Green line?  Certainly.  I was tired enough I practically would have handed the MBTA my entire wallet.

But they didn’t want my money.  They wanted to run their empty train into Boston instead.